Residents of the Teays Valley in western West Virginia have been taking advantage of Valley Park at Hurricane since it opened in 1978, but now the park off Interstate 64 is attracting more visitors from out of town, thanks in part to renovations and new sports fields.
Long known for its wave pool, the park between Charleston and Huntington underwent a 2018 reinvention that's dramatically expanded its offerings, according to Kelli Steele, executive director of the Putnam County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
After the expansion of trails and sports fields and the addition of a conference center and a market with a café, the park welcomed record visitors before being closed as a result of the covid pandemic, but now those numbers have rebounded, Steele said.
“That improvement has really taken the park to the next level where it attracts sports tournaments and those group meetings that we didn’t have the facilities to host before," she said.
Through the years, the park and its community have grown and prospered together. Two hotels and many small businesses have opened their doors since 2018, including Valley Sports, a disc-golf supply store on the grounds of the park.
“We’ve seen an increase in visitors to the area since the renovation of the park was completed, as is evidenced by the two new hotels that have opened in Putnam County since that time, and we think there was a pretty strong correlation between those two,” Steele said.
“Having these facilities and knowing Putnam County has more to offer and continues to grow has been a big reason those hotels felt like it was a good investment here.”
Between two of the state's largest metropolitan centers, Hurricane has steadily grown over the years, and its leaders and businesses strive to offer all the amenities needed without having to travel outside the area, according to Justin Williams, director of Putnam County Parks.
“This area is full of so many transplants of people who have moved here from Charleston or Huntington, for the schools and things like that."
“The park brings in a lot of people to our conference center for weddings, conferences, and large gatherings. Before, you’d have to go to Charleston or Huntington for those because we didn’t have anything that large in the area that can facilitate large events like that. So tourism-wise, it gives people a reason to come here to the county.”
Hotel occupancy has reflected the growth of the community, Steele said. When she first accepted the position as executive director in 2016, weekdays showed high occupancy but tended to slack off during weekends.
Today, it’s the opposite, she says. While it can’t all be contributed to the park, tournaments and park activities certainly play a part, especially considering that the pandemic trended toward more outdoor recreation
“We had primarily business travelers, and now you’re seeing more leisure travelers, and we’re doing some work to determine what exactly they’re coming here for,” Steele said.
“If there’s an event or a tournament in town, our hotels are going to be full, but those other weekends we’re trying to figure out what it is they’re doing when they’re here so we can do a better job promoting the area. It’s not all due to Valley Park, but that certainly played a big role.”
Williams said baseball tournaments are another large draw to the park. The three turf baseball fields are used for practices during the week and for tournaments on the weekends. The park also has an all-inclusive playground that is the first of its kind in West Virginia.
“We have a good a good mix of people coming in here for events, even the events the park holds,” Williams said.
“If you live here or in the surrounding area, you probably have a kid that plays on one of the fields or you definitely come to our playground. It’s a large attraction for the park and probably the most used part of our park.”
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